Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Beatles issued holiday records

"The Beatles' Christmas Album" was sent to
members of the official Fan Club and not sold
in stores.


Thinking about the holiday season, I got out my copy of "The Beatles' Christmas Album" the other day.

Unless you're a die-hard fan you probably didn't know the group even had a holiday LP.

That's because the LP was sent to official Fan Club members only and never made available commercially.

The long-playing record collects seven exclusive "Christmas messages" the Beatles issued on flexi-discs from 1963-1969 and mailed directly to club members. (If you didn't know, flexi-discs were manufactured on paper thin pieces of plastic but perfectly compatible with conventional record players.)

After their 1970 break-up, all four solo Beatles added to that holiday legacy by issuing popular 45s like "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" by John Lennon, "Ding Dong; Ding Dong" by George Harrison and "Wonderful Christmastime" by Paul McCartney. Ringo Starr even delivered an entire album of holiday songs.

Released in 1971, "Happy Xmas" is actually credited to John & Yoko and the Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir. Composed by Lennon and wife Yoko Ono, the song reached No. 3 when first released and has since become a holiday classic.

Produced by John & Yoko with Phil Spector, "Happy Xmas" was originally written to protest the Vietnam War. It has been re-issued numerous times and most recently hit No. 32 on the adult contemporary chart during the holiday period in 1995.

"Happy Xmas" is included on Lennon's "Power to the People: The Hits," in both audio and video versions.

Former bandmate George Harrison entered the seasonal fray in 1974 with "Ding Dong; Ding Dong" adding New Year's Day to the mix. The original song topped off at No. 36 in early 1975.

In his autobiography, Harrison said he got the lyrics for "Ding Dong" from words engraved on the wall at his Friar Park estate, built years ago by Sir Frankie Crisp. In the song, Harrison asks listeners to "ring out the old, ring in the new" and "ring out the false, ring in the true."

Harrison had great expectations for "Ding Dong" even taping a video to accompany the song. Included on his "Dark Horse" album, the record may have missed some airplay since it was issued late in the holiday season.

Ex-bandmate Ringo Starr is credited as drummer on Harrison's festive single.

Paul McCartney, meanwhile, issued "Wonderful Christmastime"/"Rudolph the Red Nosed Reggae" in 1979. The single didn't chart at that time, but earned a Top Ten spot when it was reissued in 1984.

Of course, McCartney wrote and produced both tracks.

A promotional video was shot in England on Nov. 16, 1979. Depicting McCartney in a pub at the center of a sing-along, the "Wonderful Christmastime" clip is included in "The McCartney Years" DVD collection.

Starr, on the other hand, got into the festive spirit with his "I Wanna Be Santa Claus" compact disc. Although it didn't sell in massive quantities, Starr's Christmas offering was well-received by critics.

Issued during the drummer's tenure at Mercury Records, the disc contains "The Little Drummer Boy," and such original numbers as the title song, "Come On Christmas, Christmas Come On" and "Pax Um Biscum (Peace Be With You)."

Starr's Christmas album is just the latest title in a Beatles' tradition dating back to the dawn of their popularity in 1963.

At that time, the group issued "The Beatles Christmas Record" strictly for dues-paying fans. The recording was never sold in shops.

As the Beatles gained popularity, the Christmas platters continued. The recording for 1964 was "Another Beatles Christmas Record," the entry was 1965 was imaginitively called "The Beatles Third Christmas Record," while the group's 1966 message was entitled "Pantomime: Everywhere It's Christmas."

A yearly gift to fans, the Christmas messages were fast-paced pastiches of song bits, sketches, comedy and Beatle banter.

The Beatles booked time at EMI Studios in London on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 1967 to record their fifth flex-disc. The four musicians composed "Christmas Time Is Here Again" just for the occasion.

According to EMI log sheets, the Beatles completed the recording in 8 hours and 45 minutes. It was mixed the following day and sent to the Lyntone Records for manufacturing and shipment to fans around the world.

The Beatles continued to issue Christmas messages in 1968 and 1969, but taped their contributions separately rather than collectively as they had in the past.

With the Beatles officially split by Christmas, 1970 the seven recordings were collected on an vinyl LP, again only distributed to Fan Club members.

"The Beatles' Christmas Album" features an eye-catching cover created by Robert Bauman depicting the individual members as their look evolved over the period 1966 to 1970.

The cover's reverse side pictures six of the flexi-disc covers and carries the notice "not for sale." Album design was credited to Grok It.

The U. S. version of the LP was shipped from the Fan Club's mailing address at P. O. Box 505, Radio City Station, New York.

Because it wasn't available commercially and demand among fans was high, "The Beatles' Christmas Album" became an instant collectors' item. Consequently, counterfeit copies of the vinyl album filled the void.

Today, the tapes for "The Beatles Christmas Album" remain in the vaults at Apple Records and have not been issued on CD, with two exceptions.

Some bits were mixed into the "Love" mash-up CD, released in 2006.

More significantly, a re-edited version of "Christmas Time Is Here Again" was issued on the four-track "Free As a Bird" CD in 1995 as part of the Beatles' Anthology series of archival releases.

Not wanting to waste a good holiday time, Ringo Starr recorded a solo version of "Christmas Time Is Here Again" for his 12-track Christmas album, released in 1999.

Composed by all-four Beatles, the song's lyrics repeat the title four times, followed by the line: "It's been around since you know when" and "O-u-t spells out." Starr's version even includes a guitar solo by Aerosmith's Joe Perry.

Despite the sparse lyrics, many listeners consider "Christmas Time Is Here Again" to be a highlight of "The Beatles' Christmas Album" and the standout track on Starr's holiday CD.

Whether recorded by the group or Ringo Starr as a solo act, the song neatly ties together the Beatles years and their post-1970 period with memorable holiday spirit.

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